Hamilton, Marquez and Rea seem unbeatable in 2019 but there are signs these British and Spanish empires will soon face serious challenges.
As Lewis Hamilton closes in on his 6th championship, chasing Schumachers record, and days after Mark Marquez clinches his 8th in MotoGP, chasing Rossi’s record, Jonathan Rea has already wrapped up his 5th consecutive WSB title, years after dethroning Carl Fogarty. These motor racing series look dead – is there no sign of things changing? No man is immortal and no race series or set of rules stays the same. Change is a-coming to F1, MotoGP and WSB and maybe sooner than the champions think.
Hamilton, Márquez and Rea have all benefited from eras in which the technology and rules within the sport have remained somewhat constitant but even that is coming to an end.
F1 – Lewis Hamilton is close to his 3rd consecutive Formula 1 drivers title, his 6th in total
If the current pace of the Ferrari SF90 is anything to go by, the writing is on the wall for the Mercedes W10. Perhaps for this reason Lewis Hamilton spends a lot of his media time denying being interested in a move to Ferrari. F1’s Roman politics have become one of the fascinations of the sport and even rock hard certainties become unstable eventually. (Mercedes and McLaren, once inseparable, now working together again, fell out over a personal issue for Ron Dennis involving sports cars).
Of course this is equally applicable to Hamilton’s rivals. Charles LeClerc causing some consternation with his comms but his talent as a driver is obvious and the fact that his speed is already causing headaches for Ferrari and multiple champion Seb speaks for itself. Ferrari have a good problem to have, their nominal No2 driver looks like the fastest man in F1 in his debut season for the team. Schumacher Jnr must be worried because it looks like the New Schumy has arrived early.
Lewis Hamilton has managed to fend off the challenge from the next generation so far – with a more level playing field in 2020 LeClerc and Verstappen will be pushing Mercedes dominance, and this should be just the beginning. 2021 rules changes in F1 will coincide with increasing threat from Ferrari and Honda. Even Renault could be a threat – the last time Renault where able to concentrate on supplying their their own team only (as will be the case from 2020) they were championship winners.
Development on power units is supposedly frozen until 2025 but since the EU plans to ban the sale of petrol engine cars entirely in 2035 something has to give soon. Some of the suggested changes are mind bending – Renault reportedly wants to introduce rules for synthetic fuels – could F1 see a Fuels War where we once had a tire war?
MOTOGP – Mark Marquez has secured the 2019 title with four races to spare, marking his 8th world championship and 6th MotoGP title.
MotoGP, the premier motocycle class, struggles with the realisation that Mark Márquez is not only winning races, he’s reinventing the sport.
Previously it was considered dangerous to control rear wheel slides on a MotoGP motorcycle., ‘Alien’ Márquez has mastered controlling slides with BOTH wheels, having previously pioneered lean angles which have the riders elbows scraping the track around corners.
It is very difficult from here to see any challenger to Márquez but his very dominance might itself eventually be the handicap. In developing a motorcycle which can only be ridden to the limit by a suspected extra terrestrial Honda are consciously putting all their eggs in one basket. Honda’s other champion rider Jorge Lorenzo might never recover from the kind of a serious back injury which has permanently crippled riders from earlier generations. He surely will not be pushing that unride-able machine to a level that approaches Marquez.
The other current Honda riders freely admit they cannot ride the current machine and consistently now qualify rows behind Márquez’s leading Honda. Honda have admitted they pushed the RC213V to an almost unride-able level to counter the straight line speed of the Ducati Desmosedici GP18 , how far can they push their machine before it is unrideable even by the alien?
Waiting in the wings a are a new generation of MotoGP riders such as Fabio Quartararo who are on machines still with obvious developmental potential. Rumour has it Honda are switching their attention to challenge Kawasaki in WSB, will they get complacent with the RC213V ?
In the long term, unlike F1, MOTOGP has yet to embrace hybrid power units on any level and purely as a PR issue that cannot continue for ever. It’s all very well to have electric motorcycles, as MotoE, appearing as a support race to the main event, but sooner or later pure petrol engines will be impossible to justify. The change will be immense as all agree the current electric motorcycle racers really are a different universe from the current machines in terms of handling and weight. Will Mark Marquez ant to push himself again in what would be more like a completely different racing machine?
WORLD SUPERBIKES – at Magny Cours Jonathan Rea won his 5th consecutive WSB title with two rounds to go
MotoGP developments will take some time to percolate down to the street product level of World Superbikes but in the meantime it’s obvious some of the other factories have had enough of Kawasaki’s focused Superbike only dominance, and now are prepared to bend the rules and leverage the technology they have developed in MotoGP. Already Ducati are fielding a machine, the Panigale V4 R , which is more MotoGP in terms of budget and technology than anything previously entered in the supposedly production based category. The fact that Rea and Team Green still came through to win the championship, after an early scare, is perhaps their greatest achievement.
WSB is making something of a comeback in recent years having temporarily lost the Superbikes spotlight to the heavy metal bake-off that is British Superbikes. For those who only see Rea’s latest championship winning margin this has been his toughest season yet. The new almost MotoGP spec Panigale was winning races by significant distances in the first half of the season, and Rea had to resort to some desperate measures to keep in touch with the series runaway leader. At Misano, Rea’s Kawasaki went down and the Northern Irish reigning champion rolled the 200kg bike over himself to get it upright again just to stay in the race. That isn’t someone sleepwalking their way to an easy Championship title.
2019 was not an easy win and Rea looks like he has a serious challenge on to get his 6th win in 2020, if the last round at Magny Cour is any indication. Race 1 was described as ‘dodgems’, with 5 different leaders swapping in the first 15 laps ending with the first win for a wildly entertaining Turkish rider, Toprak Razgatlıoğlu.
Scott Redding’s appearance next year in WSB from British Superbikes on a factory Ducati looks certain to create a challenge for Rea even if Toprak’s move to a factory Yamaha doesn’t work out. Redding is one of the few riders to have ever posed a problem for the unbeatable Marquez in MotoGP. Redding’s mortal determination to return after being humiliatingly dumped from the premier series has a ring of The Count of Monte Cristo about it, and next years Anglo-Irish confrontation between the ever entertaining Redding and Rea, plus Toprak, Garrett Gerloff from AMA Superbikes, plus new factory hardware from BMW, Honda (The new WSB Honda Fireblade will reportedly have ‘active aero’ – that isn’t even on the MotoGP bike) should ensure that 2020 for WSB will be even tighter than 2019 was.
There is some talk that Rea is pining for more time with his family and may even retire. Who could blame him after becoming the WSB GOAT years ago?
Enjoy the apparent stagnation and stability in F1 MotoGP and World Superbikes right now, it may just be close to the end of an era in all three, a calm before the storm.